How Old Is Too Old For Medical School? (An Honest Opinion)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

If you’re considering studying medicine later in life, you may be wondering how old is too old for medical school?

Should you call it a day if you’re past 22? How about 30? Will medical schools even let you in if you’re 40+?

The reality is there is no age that’s ‘too old’ to start at medical school. Despite the length of time it takes to train as a fully-qualified doctor, your drive to study medicine is what matters, not your age. Medical schools won’t discriminate against you no matter how old you are.

It can be easy to become caught up in the idea that if you’re not 18 then training to be a doctor will take too long and be too much work.

In this guide, I want to show you some compelling reasons why that is absolutely not the case.

What’s The Maximum Age You Can Study Medicine?

The first question you might have is whether a medical school will even admit you as a mature student?

Is there a maximum age that people are allowed to study medicine?

There is no maximum age you can study medicine in the UK. Medical schools do not uncommonly accept students in their 30s, 40s and even 50s. The upper age limit for going to medical school is rather one that’s imposed on applicants by themselves- as a result of the cost, training time and long working hours of doctors.

It’s true that the downsides of medical training can be more impactful if you’re not an eighteen-year-old free agent.

You may have already gone to university- so won’t have access to as large a student loan as you did the first time around.

A mature medical student studying in the library

This means you’ll very likely need to use savings or hold a part-time job through medical school to fund yourself.

You’ll be starting down the long road of clinical training at a later date than many of your fellow students- meaning you’ll suffer unsociable working hours and long days till a much older age.

And being in a later stage in life, you may well have other commitments that you’ll have to juggle- first with lectures and then the unforgiving shift patterns, such as pets, children or elderly parents.

But all these obstacles can be overcome.

You will have to work harder to make your dream a reality- but if becoming a doctor is what you really want to do then you can make it happen.

When Is It Too Late To Apply To Medical School?

Having highlighted a few of the disadvantages of going to medical school at an older age, you may be speculating that there gets a point where it’s just not worth it.

Although you can technically still go to medical school, when is it practically too late to apply?

It’s never too late to apply to medical school. Although medical school will take approximately five years, with at least another five years of training following graduation, if you’ve discovered a passion for medicine you may always regret not exploring it.

My honest opinion is that just because you realise later in life that medicine is for you, you shouldn’t be put off following that ambition.

It’s important to remember that it’s not all about being that fully qualified expert doctor.

A consultant physician examines an elderly patient

If medicine really is for you then you will enjoy medical school, you will love being a junior doctor and you will steadily progress up the training ladder.

Speaking from experience, it can be far too easy to always be looking to the future, rather than being satisfied with the present when it comes to your medical career.

You’ll always be looking just around the corner: you’ll be a more senior doctor, you’ll be paid more, you’ll work fewer hours and life will just be better…

“Sure, I’m a medical student now but once I graduate I’ll be an FY1. It’s only one year of being an FY1 then I’m an FY2… Core training will be much better than my foundation years. Once I’m done with core training then I’ll finally be a registrar… Only a couple more reg years left then consultant here I come!”

And on, and on, and on…

By getting out of that mindset, you’ll be able to start enjoying a new career right from day one of medical school and won’t stop enjoying it till the day you retire.

(My article on the average age of doctors delves into even more depth on how old doctors are at different stages of their careers.)

Is It Worth Going To Medical School At 30?

If I’ve not convinced you yet and you’re in your thirties, this section is for you.

Is it really worth going to medical school at 30?

It’s worth going to medical school at 30, 40 or even 50! Just because you’re coming to medicine later in life doesn’t mean you won’t have exactly the same opportunities for an incredibly rewarding career. Doctors have been known to work into their 70s simply because of their love for the work.

Now let me show you the maths to prove it.

If you’re 32 now, then you’ll be 37 when you finish medical school.

That means if you decide you want to be a GP, you’ll be 42 when you complete clinical training.

If general practice doesn’t tickle your fancy, then it may be more like 47 for a hospital specialty.

But with the current retirement age set at 67, which will likely be at least 70 by the time you get there, you’ll still have at least 23 years working as a fully qualified consultant!

Or 28 years working as a fully qualified GP!

And that’s completely ignoring the fact that you get to enter the exciting world of medicine from day one of medical school.

I’d maintain these numbers can be just as convincing if instead of 32, you’re 42.

Although training to be a fully qualified doctor is an incredibly lengthy process, if you plan on working in medicine for your career, it’s entirely worth it.

If you want to learn more about the length of different training pathways in medicine, check out this guide on how long it takes to become a doctor.

Advantages Of Going To Medical School Later In Life

Instead of only downsides, there are in fact a number of distinct advantages of going through medical school later in life.

  • You’ll have far better discipline and study skills than a lot of your younger colleagues
  • You’ll have maturity and past life experience that can feed into your consultations with patients
  • Patients will in fact be more inclined to trust you than a baby faced eighteen-year-old
  • You’ll have confidence that medicine is exactly what you want to be doing
  • You won’t be as easily distracted by the student union and mid-week nights out!

But on a serious note, I think there is real value in not going to medical school straight out of school.

A group of medical students working together in a library meeting room

As you may know, in the American medical education system, you can only study medicine as a postgraduate.

I personally went to medical school at 18.

But I can confidently say I’d have engaged more, understood more, and come out a better doctor had I studied medicine at a slightly older age.

You’ll also hopefully get to avoid my pet peeve of people constantly telling you “you’re far too young to be a doctor!”

What’s The Oldest Person To Become A Doctor?

Finally, I wanted to finish off with the incredible story of the oldest person to ever become a doctor.

The oldest person to ever become a doctor was Ingeborg Rapoport at 102. Rapoport was denied a medical degree because of her Jewish heritage after studying in Hamburg in Nazi Germany. This was corrected by Hamburg University in 2015, making Ingeborg Rapoport the oldest person ever to receive a doctorate degree.

If Rapoport can do it at 102, I bet you can do it!

But aside from universities rectifying Nazi antisemitism, there are some other impressive individuals who’ve come to medicine later than most.

Dr Atomic Leow graduated from Grigore T. Popa University of Medicine and Pharmacy in 2015, at the age of 66!

“In my six years of studies in the medical faculty, I’ve had to overcome many obstacles including the tremendous generation gap between myself and my younger peers… Despite all these odds, I graduated in the top 10 per cent of my cohort with a medical degree on the 25th June 2015.”

“I have been recognised in Romanian media as the oldest medical graduate in the world, beating the current titleholder held by Dr. TSN Rathakrishnan of India who graduated with a medical degree at the age of 64.”

Dr Atomic Leow

The Association of American Medical Colleges also recently published this article, detailing the stories of five doctors who’ve recently graduated from medical school all over the age of 40.

Among their ranks were an army combat medic, a dentist and an urban forestry expert.

I think these individuals help reinforce the fact that if you truly want to study medicine, you can no matter what your age or background.

Final Thoughts

As I imagine you’ve realised by now, nine times out of ten I think people should go to medical school.

That is, if they genuinely have a passion for medicine and are positive it’s the career they want to pursue.

Don’t let yourself be put off by feeling like you’ve missed the boat.

Perhaps the best time to have gone to medical school was five years ago… but the second-best time is now.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.